If you’ve ever been injured on the job and filed a workers’ compensation claim to get paid for your medical expenses and lost wages, you know full well what a long, complicated process it can be. Most people seek legal representation following a workplace accident or injury because of the immense amount of paperwork necessary to file a claim and due to the strict adherence to procedural rules that is required in these complex claims.
An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer is a must if you hope to get the monetary compensation owed to you and if you hope to get that money in a timely manner. Even the best workers’ compensation attorneys are bound by the slow-going process that Workers’ Compensation cases are known for, but with a lawyer on your side, your chances of collecting greatly improve.
Workers’ Compensation Hearing
If you’re not able to settle your Workers’ Comp claim informally following your workplace injury, a workers’ comp judge will schedule a formal hearing, at which time you are given the opportunity to present your case and show why you’re entitled to benefits. For purposes of this article, let’s assume you have hired a workers’ comp lawyer and that you just want to learn a little bit about what to expect at your first post-injury hearing.
While some workers’ comp claims are approved on the first attempt, most are not, and some are even denied more than one time. If your claim is denied, you will then participate in a hearing with your attorney by your side. Hearings are very difficult, but workers’ comp lawyers usually have hundreds, if not thousands, of these cases under their belt, and they know how to make crucial fact-based legal arguments and what compelling evidence to present in order to get you the best result possible.
Before the Hearing
Before your workers’ comp hearing, you will likely go through mediation and a pre-hearing conference. During mediation, a settlement will be negotiated with the assistance of a neutral third party. The other two parties will be your side (you and your lawyer) and the employer/insurance company or employer/attorney for employer.
At the pre-hearing conference, information will be exchanged between both sides and the judge. Throughout this process, a settlement may still be negotiated. Injured workers are not always required to attend all steps in the process, but your lawyer will be there on your behalf. Your attorney will tell you what is happening every step of the way, and it’s imperative that you hire a workers’ comp lawyer you can trust who has knowledge of the law and experience with these tough cases.
Your attorney will organize all of your evidence prior to the hearing. This information may include medical records, doctors’ notes, unpaid medical bills, proof of other expenses related to your injury, and any other information that will help your case.
At the Hearing
Hearings before a judge can last hours, days, or weeks, depending on the injury and the cooperation between the parties (employee and employer). Attendees at the hearing may include any or all of the following:
- Injured worker
- Attorney for injured worker
- Workers’ comp insurance company representative or attorney
- Employer’s lawyer or other representative
- Workers’ comp judge
- Court reporter
- A representative from the employer
You will most likely testify at your hearing (unless, for some reason, your lawyer thinks your testimony will not benefit your case). You will give testimony about how and when your injury occurred; your symptoms and any limitations you have due to your injury; your job duties, training, and education; and any attempts you’ve made to return to work.
Keep in mind that you will be under oath as you testify; you must tell the truth or face criminal prosecution. Your lawyer will ask you a series of questions, the other side will ask questions, and the judge may even ask questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t make it up, it is OK to say “I don’t know.” Your lawyer will discuss all of this with you prior to the hearing.
Witnesses will also testify and may include co-workers, an insurance adjuster, and experts to support or refute what your claim alleges. Doctors are often deposed ahead of time, but they may be called to offer testimony at your hearing.
The judge’s decision is not made at the hearing. He will review the testimony and evidence and render a decision, which will be mailed to you. You will then have a certain amount of time to appeal or accept the decision. Your lawyer will work with you on the next step in the process should you decide to appeal the judge’s decision.
If you didn’t hire a lawyer before the appeals process, you really must hire one if the workers’ compensation judge denies your claim. A workers’ compensation attorney is a necessity to navigate the legal and medical maze of an appeal.